Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.(Matthew 6:33)
In learning to please God, the Christian must have a clear idea of what his goal is. Though the Bible makes that goal clear, it is one that is easily forgotten.
Jesus stated the goal in Matthew 6:33. First, Jesus said we must seek. To seek something requires effort. It involves diligent search. Seeking is not taking a nap. It involves persistent work. We do not sit back and wait for God to drop in our laps.
We are to seek the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness. Jesus says we are to seek these things first. The New Testament word used here for first carries the force of priority. A more accurate translation of the concept would be, “Seek first, above all else, the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” Seek the kingdom. Seek righteousness. These are the priorities of the Christian life.
There is much confusion about spiritual seeking in the Christian world. We frequently hear this comment: “My friend is not a Christian, but he is seeking.”
What is the non-Christian seeking? One thing we know he is not seeking, He is not seeking God. Paul declares, “There is none who seeks after God.”(Romans 3:11) The unbeliever never, never seeks God. The unbeliever is a fugitive from God. In his sinful state he may look for answers to life’s puzzles, but he does not seek God. Unbelievers are seeking happiness, peace of mind, relief from guilt, a meaningful life, and a host of other things that we know only God can give them. But they are not seeking God. They are seeking the benefits of God. Natural man’s sin is precisely this: he wants the benefits of God without God Himself.
I belabor this point for this reason: Seeking after God is a Christian enterprise. The seeking of God begins at conversion.
R. C. Sproul
What is it that we seek? I often hear that “we need to put God back into our schools, the government, the nation and the church.” But what does that mean? Do we believe that if we were somehow to accomplish this that things would be better for us? If God we’re to be “put back into school” would it make our kids act better, learn better and live more productive lives? If God we’re to be “put back into the government” would that mean that the corruption would disappear and we would enjoy our freedoms and benefits of a morally led nation? Would abortions, substance abuse, violence and the like be eradicated? If God we’re to be “put back into the church” would there be less conflict and controversy over matters of conduct and would there be growth instead of decline? Certainly these are worthy goals to pursue. When we read the history of Israel, we find that they were seeking more of benefits than God Himself. Over and over again we read that when there was calamity, they cried out to God and He in His graciousness delivered them. Almost as soon as they got the first breath of freedom, they began to turn to other gods and the pattern repeated itself all over again. I’ve seen those come to church who were facing hard times or looking for some relief and as soon as they saw the light at the end of the tunnel, they went back to their old ways and church attendance went from priority to convenience. Now I’m not suggesting that church attendance is necessary for salvation, but I do believe it speaks to our priorities. Any relationship built on the benefits of that relationship is doomed to fail. At some point the benefits will be taken for granted and more will be required to sustain the relationship. Consider how we as a nation have sought benefits more than God. It has always been in the crisis that people become interested in “seeking God.” During WWII in the dark days when the Nazis were steamrolling over Europe, Roosevelt and Churchill called the nations to prayer. History records that from that moment the tide of the war changed. During the 911 crisis, the nation was again called to prayer. In each of these examples, as soon as the crisis was over, people returned to their activities and the priority of prayer gave way to other activities that were perceived as more important. All these point to the fact that the seeking of God and the seeking of God’s benefits are quite different and we tend to seek benefits more than we seek God Himself. Even when we talk about heaven, most talk about the benefits rather than God. They will say, “I want to see my loved ones, leave sorrow and pain and misery behind, live in a mansion and walk on streets of gold, and enjoy the splendor of heaven.” Rare do we hear, “I just want to see Jesus and bow in worship before Him.”
When asked why they attend church, most describe the benefits that it provides. Certain requirements and expectations are the expressed desires. The church must provide great sermons, excellent music that is according to our particular preference, excellent children and youth ministry, attractive to young and senior adults with both groups experiencing relevant and connective ministry, excellent congregational care and so forth. The demand for the church to be designed for our particular preference has created a highly competitive atmosphere in which human driven expectations drive the church.
In returning to what Jesus said, “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness”, we must consider our goal. What does it mean to seek the kingdom? Every kingdom has and is known by and shaped by its king. The kingdom of heaven has at its center Christ. Let us seek Him, Him alone. Let us seek His presence, to know Him in a personal and vibrant way. Let us seek and when we find His purpose, let that become our priorities. Let our relationship be led by the person rather than the benefits. Let our connection to the church be the desire to belong to Him and to worship rather than only what we receive as benefits. Let us cease from any demand that church and God exists to supply only what is beneficial to us and to seek to fulfill the wishes and desires of Christ. Let us place the kingdom of God at the top of our priorities in service and work and giving. Let all other things find their place second to our pursuit of God. Let our main goal in life be pleasing to Him and our reward to hear Him say, “We’ll Done.”
In our current crisis, the virus, the violence, the restrictions, and all the changes and effects these have brought, let us seek God rather than focusing on benefits or perhaps their loss. I realize that a lot of things have changed, but God remains constant. How we gather as believers, how we interact, how and where we worship, and how we connect have all changed. Some of the things that have been important to us in the past may have disappeared forever and their loss will be noticed. But if our focus is God Himself, we will adapt and carry on the work of God even in a new environment and way. Sinners still need Jesus, people still need hope and help, we still need the fellowship of other believers and the work of Jesus still needs to be done. As with any relationship, environmental changes do not destroy it. There will always be changes in benefits provided but the love relationship stays the same and adapts to the new norm. Let us seek Him first!
Dr. John Thompson